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What places in India should I not miss on a first visit?

What places in India should I not miss on a first visit?

Old Jun 11th, 2004, 06:09 AM
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What places in India should I not miss on a first visit?

The air fare was so good that we jumped right in and booked a mid-October through mid-November return flight into and ex-Mumbai, with the possibility of an extension to any one of about seventeen cities in India, from Thiruvanthapurnam in the south to Calcutta in the north east, or Chennai, or Udaipur.... just about anywhere. So now it's into Lonely Planet for ideas.... but most of all I would like to hear from the people on this site. We want to travel light and cheap, and we're quite happy to sit for hours on buses and trains to get to places we otherwise wouldn't have thought of. I hope we've chosen well, weather-wise, by travelling in October-November, but if there are any areas that are best avoided at that time, we'd like to know that, too. Many thanks for all suggestions!
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Old Jun 11th, 2004, 06:44 AM
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Glad you got a good air fare! Delhi is great for toutists as is Agra (Taj Mahal). If you plan to go to Delhi there are plenty of suggestions. My one suggestion now is to be careful about what you eat and drink. India can be rough on you stomach if you have never been there before. I also advise to see a travel MD or clinic before you go. Malaria prophylaxis is usually recommended at the least. Have a good trip.
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Old Jun 11th, 2004, 07:55 AM
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Sounds like you are in the right mood already for India. Indian train travel is my third favourite thing about India, next to Indian food and then Indian train stations for unparalleled people watching.

It seems that the tail end of your trip will coincide with Diwali/Deevali (Hindu new year), which begins on November 12 and runs for several days. That is a great festival time to be there. I think this will add a lot to your enjoyment of the trip. There may be a particular city where it is especially well celebrated, read up or post a question here or on the Lonely planet website. Your trip will also coincide with the beginning and end of Ramadan. This should not greatly affect things in terms of what is open, but may in certain more Muslim areas where restaurants may be closed during the day.

Do read up in Lonely Planet and other books as India is vast and has so many climates and cultures. Its kind of like asking "where should I go in the US for a month"? A lot will depend on whether your interests are cities or countryside, museums or beaches, etc.

Luggage will be a consideration if taking trains, so bear this in mind if you are planning on visiting different regions where one could be steamy tropical and the other snowbound Himalaya.

Delhi and Rajasthan will be pretty good weather-wise, at least not so hot as the pre-monsoon. Depending on how much time you have other than Delhi and of course Agra, there is Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisamler, Udaipur, Ranthambore National Park and a lot of smaller areas.

I would defiantly go to Varanisi as the weather is good, and I think it is such an interesting place. If you have the time also go to Khajuraho, although I would put that pretty far down the list even with a month to spend.

I believe Ladkh would be very good that time of year, as there is little rain. Temps will be cool to actually cold, but I think you get the best mountain views at that time of year. (I have never been, but would really like to, so would love to hear your experiences if you go.)

Goa and Kerala will be at the tail end of the monsoon, not necessarily a bad thing as it would be an experience. Kerala would probably have bit more rain the Goa, but either would be fine, and for my money I would take Kerala, but if you have the time, do both on a slow train or bus trip down the coast.

The east coast areas around Chennai and south to Pondicherry will be very rainy, I think I would avoid those.


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Old Jun 12th, 2004, 03:00 AM
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I just checked, and the Puskhar Camel Fair is November 23 -26 this year. I don't know if you will still be in India. This is a really interesting event; if there is any way to work your schedule to get there, it would be worth it. This is a huge annual event in Pushkar, Rajasthan where camels and other animals are bought and sold, but there are lots of other things going on as part of the festival, including camel races. People come in from the desert areas. There are several religious rites as part of this as well, including some dips in the lake.
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Old Jun 12th, 2004, 06:05 AM
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Is that held in or near Ajmer Cicerone?
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Old Jun 12th, 2004, 07:51 AM
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Yes, Puskar is a few kilometres from Ajmer as I recall. Can't find a good detialed map of Rajathsan on the web....but I don't recall it being far. We drove first to Amjer and then out to Pushkar.
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Old Jun 12th, 2004, 03:09 PM
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I thought so. My wife is from Ajmer. Is Pushkar where they have a statue to (name escapes me) the Indian raja who was so proficient with a bow and arrow that, as legend goes he slew the emeny king with it even though he was blinded by him? I've seen that.
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Old Jun 12th, 2004, 06:43 PM
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Go to the Indian Airlines (www.indian-airlines.com) website and explore their air pass - allows you to cover certain number of cities in I think 21 days. Typical rules i.e. no back tracking. Could make sense for you. In terms of not to be missed places Rajasthan, Agra, Kerala, Goa - in case the air pass works for you you could consider getting the initial routing into Kerala and then working your way northwards flying back home out of Delhi (I know you have mentioned Mumbai but airlines which cover both cities normally do not mind routing you into one and out of the other). Weather wise you have chosen well. With the expection of Mumbai which is hot in Oct you should get good weather everywhere. Monsoons should be over. And you will get far better hotel room rates than Dec so all in all well planned!
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Old Jun 13th, 2004, 05:15 AM
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A month - right. Good choice of time to visit. But bearing in mind you have not been to india before, am tailoring suggestions to ease you into it. For value for money I'd extend to Calcutta - but that might be too much on the culture shock index.
I think I'd fly direct to Udaipur if poss cos it's an easy sort of place and not that convenient by train from Delhi. From there check out Jodphur and Jaipur - I don't think you have time for Jaiselmer unless you want to concentrate purely on Rajasthan and the NE. You can do the above by train, but with your limited time it might be better to organise a car (something, I must confess I've no experiece of). From Jaipur take a bus to Agra - oh,and stop in Fatephur Sikri if you can; then train to Delhi. Fly from there to Calcutta - visit Darjeeling. November is the very best time to go. Take the toy train (if it is still running). Takes a whole day but it's worth it. Then train back from Calcutta to Delhi - not all in one go - stop in Varanasi - you should be prepared for it by then.

Then direct train Delhi-Mumbai, or if you have time - get off at Jalgaon and take a detour to the Ajanta caves (one of the must sees IMHO). But time consuming.

Enough for one post.
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Old Jun 13th, 2004, 06:01 AM
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Thank you a thousand times, jacketwatch, cicerone, Sameera_Anand, and Alice13! You have given me a lot to think about, and it's wonderful to know that the time of year we chose (in indecent haste, as the cheap air seats -- $829 Australian dollars, which is around $US575 --were virtually disappearing as we sat in the agent's office.

I will take your advice and avoid Chennai (much as I'd love to see it... an ancestor, Sir Henry Pottinger, was governor of the place); however, I am hoping that your dire-weather warning doesn't extend to Bangalore. It would seem like the north is drier at this time of year than the south, but, nonetheless, I would really like to see the south, if only one city. Trivandrum under its new name, perhaps?

I know Calcutta would be a culture shock, as you said, alice13, but I am sorely tempted. At least, there I will (I expect) see the "REAL" India, warts and all, and that's what I am going there for! Maybe I can fly into there and do a train journey to Varanasi/Agra/Jaipur/Udaipur, or is this just too far (or slow)to consider? Is there a "round trip" that can be made by train taking in these cities?

Lastly (if I am not being too cheeky aslking question after question), can someone put into plain English the description on the Indian Railway website of the various classes of train travel? Their description seems fine if you already know exactly what the classes are like. In Australia we just have seats or sleepers, and sleepers are almost prohibitively expensive. India, it seems, is more complex.... we don't mind a bit of roughing it, but I guess there is a standard below which we wouldn't feel comfortable travelling, and I have a feeling that Indian trains might be the ones to prove that theory!

I am really enjoying this thread, and hope to hear some more inspired suggestions. Oh, one last question: what is the situation re ATMs in India, or am I expecting too much?

Thanks once again! Any questions about Sydney, Australia... please ask so I can return the favour!
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Old Jun 13th, 2004, 06:26 AM
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Hoo rah Alan! If I had a VB I'd hoist one to ya. . As for the trains my best recollection is to get a 1st class A/C ticket. However perhaps others here can be more helpful with that. BTW, as for Sydney how much in USD is a good (not geat) meal there? We are seeking a nice place, clean, good food and service and some atmosphere. Australia is one place we would love to see. We met many Aussies and Kiwis in Fiji (would also hoist a Fiji bitter if I had one ) and honest they are some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. Would love to visit one day. Cheers, larry
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Old Jun 13th, 2004, 07:43 PM
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Hi.

To directly answer your question, I'd vote for Varanasi and Udaipur--as 2 cities not to be missed. (Of course everyone goes to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.)

We recently went on a 10 day trip and did 5 cities. Crazy, but available through an air pass on Jet Airways. (Fantastic airline and every flight on time.)It sounds like you have worked with another airline, but just in case, you can check out their site. Air passes are under Overseas Exclusives at www.jetairways.com
Udaipur was astonishing. We enjoyed it so much more than Jaipur. And if you can, stay at the Lake Palace Hotel.

Varanasi is truly amazing and hits your senses in so many ways. We only had one day, but we felt the city provided us with one of our most rememorable 24 hours of the whole trip.

If you get to Delhi, I took advantage of the great advice offered here and ended up staying at the Imperial Hotel. It was fantastic, but the rates in low season May were also incredible. I'm not sure what they offer in Oct-Nov.

No matter where you go, you'll thoroughly enjoy (or at least be amazed at) India.
Although where to go is a hard decision to make.

Have fun.
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Old Jun 14th, 2004, 04:12 AM
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Thanks, babiron, for the tip about jetairways.com, which might be useful, as I couldn't find anything about an Indiapass on Indianairlines. Everything you have suggested seems to tally with what I am hearing from others (including my own son, who thinks that Jaipur and Udaipur are the two best places on earth). It looks lik we will do a massive train journey north from Mumbai as far as Varanasi, and then back again.... but, you know, I'd still like to see Calcutta! Our extension flight might be best used for one of the southern cities.... maybe one that's not so easily accessinle (because of slow trains or no trains or just vast distances) by rail... Trivandrum, perhaps?

Jacketwatch, you would have a wonderful time in Sydney, so do check the Australia forum on Fodor's for lots of help with restaurants. I don't eat out much, and when I do it's usually at one of the suburban "clubs" (you don't have to be a member) which make their money out of poker machines and so sell above-average meals at very reasonable prices. These are kid-friendly restaurants, which is what I need, but not perhaps what you would be looking for in the way of ambience! Anyway, our family actually ate in one just this evening.... for four adults and two children, we spent a total of $69, which is just under fifty US dollars... and for that we could keep filling our plates with roast dinners, pastas, Asian selections, and some really impressive sweets (I confess to visiting the sweets counter four times). You'll pay much more than that, of course, at a standard restaurant, which is why the Jarman family hasn't eaten in one of those since the last time Venus whizzed across the face of the Sun. But, as you see, you will eat very well in Sydney for very little money if you choose wisely.... so I hope to see you here soon!

Is first class air-conditioned really the only way for a budget-conscious rail traveller to "do' India and still feel like he hasn't sacrificed too much of his western obsession with comfort, personal space and hygiene? And, for long-dystance travel, sre the sleepers (three-tier or two-tier) a good idea? Lonely Planet made it sound as if you had six people sitting on seats which ultimately became three beds, and so when it was bed-time everyone had to co-operate so that the beds could magically appear... beds for three, but there are six people there. Is that how it works? (Sounds a bit crazy!)
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Old Jun 14th, 2004, 04:25 AM
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Back again - India is a wonderful place and it's fun to remember travels there. so, Indian Railways. An earlier poster hit the nail on the head - they are one of the best (well, unique) things about India, along with the food, etc. The network is immense, and in 2 lengthy trips there I've travelled a fair bit of it. You sort of ease into it. I travelled almost always 2nd class. A couple of times when time was more critical than money I went 1st - I've never gone a/c - and to be honest, in the North in the winter you won't need to. And if you decide to go south - well one of the great pleasures of the trains is that the windows open so on the broad guage trains that travel down to Kerala you get yourself one of the berth that run parallel to the corridor - esp if there are 2 of you. At night there's an upper and a lower bunk; in the day the bottom one decontructs into 2 seats BY THE WINDOW. PERFECT!!

Let me see if I can describe a 2nd class carriage. Draw yourself a long narrow rectangle - that's the carriage. Imagine you get on at a door bottom RH corner. Now turn left. ahead of you is a long passage way - no walls. Every so often along the right is the end of a bank of triple bunks. Between each pair of banks is a window. To the left, berths I mentioned before. It's all completely open and is sort of like a village. There's a pair of loos at each end of the carriage. Meals orderable from the steward, and you can hire a bedroll (sheets and blankets).

First class - enclosed compartments, seats much better padded; washbasin - I don't remember an 'en suite' loo - but that could be memory lapse. My only forays into first were on my first visit to india now over 10 years ago.

There are 'fast' trains on some routes - the Shatabdi for instance Agra-Delhi and I think there is a Delhi-Calcutta equivalent.

The LP will probably tell you that there is a foreigners booking office at New Delhi Stn. Also worth knowing, if you are travelling with a female partner is that there are ladies only queues at local railway stations - if there isn't the local women feel they can push to the front of the line - as a tourist I never had the courage.

Oh, yes, the queues. Be prepared for them - book 2-3 days in advance minimum.

Re Calcutta - difficult to place it on a list of best places to go. You have some hard decisions to make!! If you go south and you like to travel slow - then going west too might be pushing it.

OK - enough for another post. Forgive the rambling!!
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Old Jun 14th, 2004, 05:28 AM
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Go to indian-airlines.com then click on fares on lhs. in fares u will find special fares for foreigners/nris. click on that and voila. just checked. have a 15 and 21 day one. re trains. hope u have been to the web site. bit diff to navigate but still handy. on some routes u will find u do not have an option of first a/c i,.e the train does not ply that carriage. the big thing second a/c requires adjusting to is sharing loos - one of them is often indian style. would suggest u do not look at non a/.c as can be very dusty esp in desert.
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Old Jun 14th, 2004, 05:55 AM
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Thanks for the tip on that type of club Alan. That is great insider info. As for the train, I do not think the 1st class A/C is that expensive though it has been a while for us. Have a great trip! Cheers, Larry
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Old Jun 14th, 2004, 07:11 PM
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Thanks once again, Samira, Alice13, and jacketwatch. I actually did get onto that Indian Airlines "foreigners" page -- a second try was all it took. I notice also that all the airlines have their deals -- Indian and Jetairways are virtually carbon copies of each other, while Sahara has a different idea where you buy a certain number of flights rather than a time frame -- might make sense if we use the trains a lot, and, frankly, this is sounding more and more like the best way to go!

Alice, your description of the carriages and all those tips about buying tickets were invaluable! Sure you won't come along with us?

Much to ponder over! Can the actual holiday be as much fun as this part? This is a great forum and I am most grateful to you all.
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Old Jun 15th, 2004, 01:12 AM
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I would stay in Bombay for a few days, visit Delhi for four-five days, including one for the day trip to Taj Mahal, and see Udaipur as well. Finish it off at a lovely resort in Kerala.
We stayed in good hotels, found very cheaply on the web. Stayed at the Lake Palace in Udaipur for $100 a night all in, which I consider v good value given the rack rates are v high. Likewise, Imperial Hotel in Delhi is lovely and calm and relaxing, and the Taj hotel in Mumbai is worth it too. Travancore Heritage hotel in Kerala was very good too. We travelled by plane, using both Jet and Air India, and we booked in the UK and took the tickets with us.
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Old Jun 15th, 2004, 02:28 AM
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If you are heading to Varanasi from Mumbai, I would try to take in Aurangabad for the Ellora and Ajanta caves and Mandu which are all incredibly spectacular and well worth visiting.

As for trains, I travelled mostly bog-standard sleeper around India, but occassionaly splashed out on 3 tier a/c or even 2 tier a/c which are marginally more comfortable and infinitely more peaceful. Also try and look out for first class non a/c which is being phased out but is still available of some lines.
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Old Jun 15th, 2004, 02:33 AM
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Looks like your itinerary is shaping up. A few comments from me:

Lots of Indians travel first class on trains, so don't imagine you will be marooned with westerners. As with second class, you will meet some interesting people in first class.

You will see the "real" India everywhere, so I would not make a special trip to Calcutta if you think that somehow the rest of India is modern and westernized. It is not. Calcutta is a fascinating place from the point of view of the Bengal culture which is heavily focused on the arts and literature (read your Tagore before you go. . .), but is not any more real than Delhi. However, if you want to see it, then you should. October and November are actually good months to visit, low rainfall (esp in November) and while hot, not in the 100s F like it is in the pre-monsoon months.

Jet Airways would be preferable over Indian Airlines whenever possible. I have not flown Sahara, perhaps others can comment. Jet Airways is reliable and has excellent service. Flights are good for long distances, but of course trains are more interesting and probably much cheaper even in 1st class. Do some comparisons. There may be a Eurail-type of pass for India. This is where a travel agent may be helpful, as I find the Indian Railways website extremely hard to use and confusing. If you buy individual tickets, your hotels should be able to buy tickets for you for no or a very small fee; worth it to avoid having to go to the station and queue yourself.

There are ATMs in India, but I have never had any luck in getting them to accept my cards. I was last there about 3 years ago, so this situation may have changed. You will find ATMs mostly only in larger cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Credit cards are widely accepted except in smaller shops or markets. India is also one of the few places I would take travellers checks.

I am a huge fan of the Imperial Hotel in Delhi and often recommend it on this site. Their website is www.theimperialindia.com. I also love the Lake Palace in Udaipur. My favourite hotel in Jaipur is Rambagh Palace. If you can, I would stay at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai for location, history and ambience (plus I understand they just redid all their rooms). All these hotels are part of the Taj group, who generally run very good hotels in India, there website is www.tajhotels.com. You might also consider the more upscale Oberoi group, take a look at www.oberoihotels.com. There "vila" brand hotels are expensive but quite an experience. Their Amarvilas in Agra would definitely be worth the splurge to have a Taj view room. They also have some 3 star hotels in many cites, take a look at their website. There are lots of other good choices in these and other places. IMO, Oberoi run the best hotels, Sheraton are next on the rung, closely followed by the Taj Group. The Clarks Group would be in the third class, their website is www.hotelclarks.com.

Once you settle on other cities, post your itinerary and we can suggest other hotels and restaurants.

You are certainly lucky to live in Sydney, one of my favourite cities in one of my favourite countries. My only question: how can I get a job there?!!
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